TEMPE, Ariz. — Game week has arrived.
Finally, and perhaps thankfully.
“We’re ready,” Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said at the first of his weekly press conferences Monday. “Our guys are, obviously. I can tell that they’re ready to play a game. They’re tired of practicing, tired of hitting each other.”
They’ll have to wait three more days, including one more day of practice, the 28th since fall camp began on the first day of August, but Graham’s team is anxious to get back out on the field and pick up where they left off a year ago as Pac-12 South Division champions.
“Our guys are excited. I’m excited to get these guys out there,” he said during his weekly Monday press conference.
The Sun Devils open against the Weber State Wildcats, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent out of the Big Sky Conference. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 on KTAR News on 92.3.
“Your first game is always a measuring stick to kind of see where you’re at,” Graham said. “We’ve had a real good preparation. Guys have been really healthy. I feel really good about where we are in our development.”
Offensively, there is a lot to like about ASU. Taylor Kelly is entering his third season as the starting quarterback. Dual-threat D.J. Foster is now the featured running back, while wide receiver Jaelen Strong is an All-America candidate.
But Graham pointed to the offensive line, which returns three starters, as the key to whether or not the Sun Devils can match, or maybe even exceed, their production from last season when they were the nation’s 10th-best scoring team at 39.7 points per game.
“That line is going to determine how good we’re going to be, and I think they’re going to be good…really good,” he said.
On the strength of its offense, ASU is ranked No. 18 in the preseason coaches’ poll and No. 19 by the Associated Press.
The question marks come on defense.
A handful of incoming freshmen will try to help fill some of the void of losing nine starters. Graham specifically mentioned two.
“He’s the best freshman I’ve ever had,” he said about defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood.
“He weighs 205 pounds and he plays like he’s 230; very explosive,” he added about linebacker D.J. Calhoun. Both players are projected to start against Weber State.
Also, special teams, which were erratic at times last season, have been upgraded according to Graham.
“I think that’s one of the most improved areas that we have right now,” he said.
Of course how all this translates when the lights come on and the Sun Devils play for real, facing a team that won only twice in 2013, will be the main story line for game No. 1.
“Just like any first game, you don’t want to beat yourself,” said Graham, pointing to penalties. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re sound about what we’re doing and line up and be able to execute and let our guys play fast and play hard.
“We’ve got 15 rocks that we’ve got to break and the first one starts Thursday. Our guys are ready to go.”